Three Reasons Marco Rubio’s Paid Family Leave Plan Won’t Cut It For Working Families

Ann O’Leary — Senior Policy Advisor, Hillary For America

With all of their talk about tax cuts for the super rich, defunding Planned Parenthood, comparing immigrants to FedEx packages, and questioning whether a Muslim could ever be President, it’s pretty clear that the Republican Party is at a loss for new ideas.

As a party, they’ve been pushing the same top-down policies for the last 30 years. And in the face of the economic realities where the middle class is struggling to get ahead and stay ahead, they’ve failed to adjust the sails. Instead, they’ve put out more of their usual tired stuff, except now with new branding at the top. And while they’re all guilty of this, few are more blatant and egregious than Marco Rubio and his “New American Century.”

Let’s leave out the fact that his “New American Century” would still feature bans on marriage equality and a defunded Planned Parenthood, or that his tax plan is a radical give-away to the super wealthy.

Today he put out a “plan” for paid family leave which only helps prove this point further.

There are only three countries in the world that don’t provide paid maternity leave for everyone: Oman, Papua New Guinea, and the United States. Hillary Clinton (and Democrats more generally) have made it clear that we need to fix this, and Republicans have stayed silent. In that spirit Marco Rubio’s plan today reads like nothing more than a cynical attempt to win votes and put a pro-family wrapping around an agenda that doesn’t do enough for actual working families. In fact, he puts a uniquely Republican spin on it by creating a paid family leave program that would largely help the already-well-off.

Here’s Why His Plan Won’t Solve the Problem

Rubio’s plan would focus on using tax credits to cover one-fourth of the cost for businesses who decide to offer paid leave…so if you want paid leave, you’d better hope you win the boss lottery. That’s because…

1. It Wouldn’t Guarantee That All Workers Have Access to Paid Family Leave

We’ve seen this movie before. Studies show that when it comes to tax credits like this, they’re more likely to just subsidize employers who are already doing the right thing. If I own a bakery, and I offer paid family leave, sure, I’ll take the tax credit. But there’s nothing that will make it so everyone has access to this benefit. You just have to hope that you work at a place that offers it. Plus, many small businesses say tax credits won’t change their behavior because of the administrative hassles it takes to claim them.

While I applaud the important, trend-setting paid family leave policies introduced recently by Microsoft, Facebook and others, we can’t leave this up to employers alone — we have to make sure that everyone has guaranteed access to paid leave, no matter where you work.

2. It Specifically Ignores Low Wage and Part-Time Workers

Because the subsidies would generally flow toward people who already offer leave, it would obviously not do much to increase access for those employees whose bosses don’t currently offer paid leave. The companies that don’t offer it tend to have large and mainly lower-skilled workforces. But that’s the rub — the people who need paid leave the most are the very people that Rubio’s plan ignores. While everyone should have access to paid family leave, it’s particularly vital for, say, a mother working at a low wage, because she’ll likely have less in savings.

We’ve seen this movie before, too. The laws that we have developed to help new parents still benefit higher-educated, higher income workers more than new parents with limited education working in low wage jobs.

Consider this fact: In the early 1960s, just over 16 percent of women with less than a high school education had access to paid maternity leave after the birth of their first child. Today that number has not moved at all — still only 16 percent of our least educated workers have paid family leave.

But for women with a college degree or more, in the early 1960s, 14 percent had access to paid leave and today that number is over 64 percent. We have literally not moved the needle at all to help our least empowered workers have access to paid maternal leave.

Any new plan for paid family leave must change this chart:

3. This Costs Money

Subsidies to employers cost money. A tax credit means that an employer is paying less income tax, and we’d have to find that money elsewhere — either a reduction in government services or a hike in taxes somewhere else. If we are going to spend money to spur action, we should better be darn sure that it moves the needle. There is no evidence that Rubio’s plan would move the needle, even though it would cost the taxpayer a significant amount of money.

Meet The New American Century. Same as the Old American Century.

When it comes to his policies, Marco Rubio’s trying to master the art of the “flim flam.” A tax plan is hardly good for the middle class if most of what it does is cut taxes on the uber rich. And by that same token, a family leave plan is no good if it only covers the well-off.

Plain and simple: no one should have to choose between keeping their job and taking care of their family. Rubio’s plan would only exacerbate the gaping disparities between who does and doesn’t have access to paid family leave. On the flip side, Hillary Clinton knows that people shouldn’t have to win the boss lottery to get paid family leave — which is why she believes we should guarantee it.

It’s just a shame that Rubio doesn’t get that. Maybe someday Rubio will enter the new American century. Until then, though, he’s offering more of the same.